This year’s American Rally Association National champion Barry McKenna holds a 46-second overnight lead over Brandon Semenuk on the DirtFish Olympus Rally after an off-road moment punished Semenuk.
McKenna and Semenuk shared the stage wins on Saturday’s first four stages but a costly SS2 for Subaru Motorsports USA’s Semenuk meant he trailed the new champion by 23.7s at the day’s halfway point. His team-mate Travis Pastrana was just 5.1s back but yet to score a stage win.
The ferocity of the duel continued into the 7.1 miles of Kuhnle Reverse as Semenuk swiped 5.9s from his rival. But McKenna responded on the Schafer test, clawing another 0.6s back; however it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to break clear at the head of the pack.
“Tires,” McKenna told DirtFish after SS6 when asked what was causing the time loss.
“I don’t have a narrow enough tire and we’re hitting a lot of standing water and the car’s doing a lot of aquaplaning. Our tire is over 25mm wider than what the Subaru’s running so obviously the narrow tire is getting through the water quicker and I’m just sitting on top of it. I spoke to Brandon Semenuk and he didn’t have the same issue I had.”
The repeat pass of Kuhnle Reverse and Schafer went far better for McKenna however, as he boosted his lead advantage from 18.2s to 46s. From a Subaru perspective, the damage was done on SS7 when McKenna put down a time 24.5s quicker than what Semenuk could manage as the Canadian slid off the road. Pastrana too was off the pace, recording a time 6.8s slower than Semenuk’s.
“We made some suspension changes and we got through stage seven pretty nice,” McKenna revealed at the end of the day. But his afternoon wasn’t trouble free.
“We were having issues with the window fogging up all day and it’s just been progressively getting worse and it fogged up once on SS7 and we had to drive very, very slow, we couldn’t see nothing, and then on stage eight we were actually stopped dead three times and tried to let it clear up by itself.
“On SS8, if the window hadn’t have been fogging up I think we’d have had a nice cut through it. We were getting more grip for sure but we just couldn’t commit with no vision.
“It’s not a big lead at all. It’s a decent lead but we’re still going to need to push. Brandon and Travis are there so a simple mistake and it’ll be over.”
Semenuk and Pastrana in second and third both had issues with fogged up windshields too, so the playing field was leveled. But as well as his SS7 excursion, Semenuk suffered “a pretty fast spin and had to reverse to get back on the road”.
He added: “Unfortunately we didn’t increase our chase to Barry. There’s still a long day tomorrow. We’ll still go for it but it’s looking tough now.”
Pastrana told DirtFish halfway through Saturday that he would realistically need to be within 20s of the overnight lead to stand a chance of fighting for victory on pace on the final six stages.
Unfortunately for the 2017 ARA National champion, he’s 1m31.4s adrift of McKenna’s Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo ahead of Sunday’s leg. He also trails team-mate Semenuk by 45.4s.
“It felt like if it could’ve gone wrong today it kind of did,” Pastrana rued.
Behind the lead trio, Jeff Seehorn still continues to hold fourth spot over John Coyne, but Coyne’s Ford Fiesta R5 has made inroads on Seehorn’s Subaru and lingers just 17s behind in fifth place.
Matthew Dickinson is sixth in his Impreza, ahead of fellow Subaru pilots Dave Carapetyan and Cameron Steely. Regional leader David Clark is ninth in his BMW ahead of rival Alejandro Perusina’s Toyota Rav4 who is 1oth.
In the 2WD class, Seamus Burke suffered heartache with his Mustang-engined Ford Escort Mk2 as he retired with steering issues, leaving his title hopes in tatters. Ryan Sanders also ran into strife in his title bi when he put his Ford Fiesta off the road on SS5.
Just three stages, instead of the planned six, remain on Sunday after poor weather left organizers with no choice but to cancel both passes of Cougar Mountain and Out Windy.
Leading positions after SS8
1 McKenna/Jordan (Škoda) 1ho6m08.2s
2 Semenuk/Hall (Subaru) +46.0s
3 Pastrana/Gelsomino (Subaru) +1m31.4s
4 Seehorn/James (Subaru) +9m38.0s
5 Coyne/Dobbs (Ford) +9m55.0s
6 Dickinson/Ray (Subaru) +10m29.0s
7 Carapetyan/Amato (Subaru) +12m51.8s
8 Steely/Holter (Subaru) +12m13.8s
9 Clark/Willetts (BMW) +14m06.4s
10 Perusnina/Bautista (Toyota) +15m55.8s